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Chronogram.  Lettering which contains a date in Roman numerals that are in larger size for emphasis. The letters I, V, X, L, C, D and M are contained in words. The lettering, most often found in the legend, either spell out the date in these Roman numerals, or the numerals add up to the intended date. The date is most charming when it is in typical order of the date in proper number sequence.

Because of the great many legends and inscriptions found on numismatic items,

particularly medals, chronograms are an important part of medallic art. It is necessary when cataloging these items to be sure to identify chronograms when they appear. It is somewhat of an internal validation if the date (in Arabic numerals) and the year of the chronogram (in Roman numerals) are equivalent. In other instances the chronogrammatic date is the only one given on the item.

In numismatic catalogs – like on the coins and medals themselves – the lettering should be in small caps, and the chronogram letters in large caps.

Origin of Chronograms..  The first known use of a chronogram was in Hebrew in 1208. Arabic chronograms date to as early as 1318. In Germany medallic engravers were employing chronograms extensively in the 1600s. The first use of the term in English was in 1621.

Variations.  Since I (for the numeral one) is the only vowel among Roman numerals, it is the easiest to include. Because of its infrequency in words X (for ten) is sometimes difficult. When adding the letters a W has sometimes been used for two Vs (two fives), the equivalent for the numeral ten.

The charm of finding a chronogram on a numismatic item is one of the appeals of this design feature. It is also found with two chronograms, double chronogram, on perhaps an anniversary medal where the date of the original event and the anniversary year being commemorated. (The largest collection of chronograms was the 1882 book by James Hilton published in London, Chronograms: 5000 and More in Number Excerpted Out of Various Authors and Collected at Many Places, had a double chronogram on its title page, with a chronogrammatic subtitle in both Latin and English.)

Irrespective of these variations, the appearance of a chronogram exhibits the care in choosing the legend and the exact spelling of the lettering. This is the symbolism in the epigraphy that is the equivalent to the use of graphic symbols, like an attribute, in the design.


L3   {1882} Hilton, Chronograms.

N19 {1993} Mackay, p 70-71.

excerpted with permission from

An Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Technology

For Artists, Makers, Collectors and Curators


Roger W. Burdette, Editor

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